Here’s the first chapter of my grade school anthology book – Middletown Middle. The school with more mysteries than students.
Chapter One – The Nickname Curse
“Coloring? Seriously?” Jeremy, the new fifth-grader complains as he takes out his crayons. “We stopped coloring in second grade at my old school.”
“Welcome to Middletown Middle,” Jeremy’s tablemate, Ari, responds. “Don’t try to compare other schools with this place.”
Jeremy continued to gripe. “And isn’t this school like a million years old? Why do we need to make up and draw a new mascot for it now?”
“It’s super weird here,” answered Marty, the third kid at their table. “The more strange stuff you look for, the more you find.”
“Example?” Jeremy asks.
“Ok, well sometimes you hear music in the cafeteria, because that’s where the old band room was before the fire.” Ari says. “And I’ve been in the girls’ bathroom — I’m talking multiple times — when the door opens and a girl walks in and disappears into the stall.”
“Yeah, that’s Bathroom Girl, not to be confused with Roller Skate girl and Lost-and-Found girl.”
“Lost-and-Found Girl? She’s a ghost?” Jeremy questions.
“She’s a ghost who wears clothes she finds in the lost-and-found,” Marty says. “She blends in. Duncan over there had a crush on her when he was in third grade.”
“You need more proof? Dracula’s castle over in Transylvania and this school have the exact same layout,” Marty explains.
“Plus, the basement level was used for super-secret government experiments,” Ari adds.
“You’re making this up,” Jeremy accuses.
“There’s a book in the library; you can’t take it out, but they’ll let you see it. It has the layout of both buildings,” Ari states. “And I’ve heard the music. It’s creepy.”
Marty adds, “My dad says everyone who went to school here is afraid of the dark no matter how old they are. Don’t get me wrong; it’s a great school. People are really nice. Teachers are cool. We just have ghosts, ghouls, giants, aliens, and big spiders.”
Jeremy is silent for a moment as he considers all this new information. “How’d Lost-and-Found Girl die?”
Ari stops coloring for a moment or two. “It was the mascot Curse.”
“The curse is why we’re coloring,” Marty says.
“So then this assignment ain’t so weird,” Jeremy comments. “What’s wrong with the current mascot? The lusca? It’s kind of weird to have a half-shark-half-squid as your mascot, but most schools don’t change mascots unless it’s racist or something.”
“Or if it killed your students.”
“I can only draw tigers, so that’s what I’m gonna do,” Jeremy says.
Marty starts to explain, but Ari holds up her hand.
“I’ve got this Marty,” Ari tells him. “The school changes mascots every twenty years to avoid the curse. The curse is simple. If this school keeps its mascot for more than twenty years, then the mascot starts hurting people. My mom went here and she had to do it. She even picked the winning name. But Jeremy, you can’t pick a tiger because they kill people.”
“Not in Kansas,” Jeremy says. “Kansas has no tigers.”
“Sure we do,” she replies. “They’re at the zoo, and we get them when the circus comes to town.”
“People have ’em in their backyards,” Marty adds. “That’s what my mom said.”
“Tigers can kill people, and they’ll find a way to come to this school,” Ari says. “You can’t pick something real that can kill.”
“Why can’t we keep the lusca?” Jeremy asks. “It’s a mythical water beast. I’d like to see it try to attack the school a thousand miles away from the nearest ocean.”
“Don’t talk like that,” Marty whispers. “It’ll happen if you talk about it. We change names because that’s what we do to keep people breathing. Fate and all that.”
Ari asks, “Where are you from anyway? I thought everyone knew about the curse.”
“I’m from Nebraska,” Jeremy answers. “And in Nebraska, they don’t teach the history of this stupid school.”
“Shhhhh. This school listens,” Marty says. He resumes the conversation with less volume. “Back in the forties, Middletown Middle’s mascot was killer bees. Twenty years later, a swarm of killer bees attacked the school; two students and a teacher died, and lots of others were taken to the hospital.”
“The Lost-and-Found Girl?” Jeremy asks remembering the name.
“Yep. And nobody wanted to be reminded so, they changed their mascot,” Ari points a finger at Jeremy, “to the wildcats, since it’s a classic nickname and something we don’t worry about here, right?”
“Right,” Jeremy answers.
“Wrong,” counters Marty. “Twenty years after they changed the name to the wildcats, this guy from the zoo came to show off some animals, including a cougar. It got loose and bit off the janitor’s leg during assembly.”
“I don’t believe you,” Jeremy declares.
“Ask Benjamin,” Ari says, “the janitor with the missing leg.”
“Okay,” Jeremy concedes. “What was the next mascot?”
Ari continues to draw and color at her desk, and without even looking up, she replies, “The tornados.”
“Well, that was stupid,” Jeremy says.
“Hey, my mom picked that!” Ari countered. “But, yeah, they were stupid for letting it win.”
“I mean, lots of tornados come through this area,” Marty says. “But the twister in 2000 took out all our t-shacks and school buses and dropped a playground slide in the principal’s living room.”
“So, that’s how they came up with the lusca?”
“Yeah. The school said anything real or that can kill would be rejected. So, they picked a mythical ocean creature, half-shark, half-giant octopus. Even if it was real, this is Kansas.”
“So, what are you drawing?” Jeremy asks Ari.
“Rocks,” Ari holds up her work. “Get it? Middletown Middle Rocks. Like, as in we rock.”
Jeremy shakes his head and Marty rolls his eyes, adding, “It’ll probably win.”
Their teacher walks over to see how they’re doing, and the three fifth-graders quietly continue their drawings.
The following week, in a gym packed with students for the school assembly, Principal Sosa is ready to unveil the new name at center court. The band plays the theme from Jaws. The giant sign with the hand-painted lusca that has hung above the basketball court for nearly two decades is going to be replaced. On the opposite side of the court, a blanket-covered sign is ready to be unveiled.
An eighth-grader wearing a costume with a shark head and octopus body runs around. The lusca’s long tentacles drag behind it. It claps its hands over his head, and the students follow suit.
“So what do you think? Is it going to be the rocks or the mountaineers?” Ari asks, sitting between Jeremy and Marty.
“Well, since we’ve got no mountains here, that’s the dumbest thing I ever heard,” Jeremy says. “So, rocks, you got my vote.”
“I hope so,” Ari shows him her crossed fingers, “If I win, I’ll get a $50 gift certificate to the Middletown Mall.”
“There’s no stores even in the mall,” Marty says. “I’m rooting for rocks, too.”
The principal walks to the mic.
“Are you all ready?” she yells out, and everyone cheers (mostly because they are not in their classrooms). She points to the lusca sign, and the mascot running around behind him. “Today’s the last day we are the Middletown Middle Luscas. Can we all say farewell to our dear friend?”
The lusca mascot balls its fists near its eyes and makes the fake crying motion. The students wave goodbye, and the lusca drags it tentacles off the court to stand under the sign bearing its image.
The principal directs everyone’s attention to the opposite end of the court, to the covered sign at the far end of the gymnasium. She takes the rope that holds the tarp in place.
“Drumroll, please,” the principal requests.
A kid in the band plays a drum roll — not very well.
“And the new nickname for Middletown Middle is … Rocks! We’re the Middletown Middle Rocks!” she shouts, pulling the blanket off the sign revealing a not-at-all intimidating painting of a rock. Before anyone can react, a colossal explosion interrupts the celebration. Something flies into the building, blowing up part of the ceiling before slamming right into the lusca sign. Sparks fly as the wooden sign splinters and falls to the ground in flames.
Everyone screams and points to the shark-octopus mascot. The costume’s long tentacles are on fire and the flames quickly race from the octopus to the shark portion. The gymnasium breaks out into pandemonium.
The eighth-grader wearing the mascot costume takes off his shark mask and runs in circles to try to put out the fire, but he only makes it worse. The janitor, Benjamin (the one with the artificial leg), pushes the kid to the ground and douses the flaming lusca with a fire extinguisher, covering him in what looks like whipped cream. The janitor then slips and lands on the ground as well, where he becomes entangled with the smoldering tentacles. The fire is out.
As the smoke settles, the students can see a hole in the ceiling big enough to drive a truck through, and the lusca sign lying on the floor is burned and broken. They watch Principal Sosa walk over to what was left. In the middle of the remains lies the cause of the explosion that nearly destroyed their school — a meteor the size of a baseball. She holds up the space rock for everyone to see.
“Middletown Middle,” Ari says quietly. “Rocks.”
That is why Middletown Middle no longer has a mascot. In case you are wondering, Ari did get a $50 gift certificate for picking the name, but after the meteor shower, no stores were left to spend it in.
Continue on to Chapter Two – The Unktomi